Natural Vs. Washed Process

We are excited to share our two newest offerings from Rodrigo Palaez’s farm, Finca Laderas del Tapias in Neira Caldas Colombia that come to us through Joseph at Cereza Coffee. We currently offer Washed, Natural, Wet-Hulled, and Honey processed coffees. These techniques are used to take freshly harvested coffee cherries, around 60% moisture content, and turn them into the product we roast, around 11 to 12% moisture content. It’s common to see these terms on the label of a bag of specialty coffee, but you don’t always get the opportunity to taste the exact same coffees processed differently. 

The natural process is the original method for processing coffee. It uses less water than washed coffees and therefore works well in regions that don’t have reliable access to water. It requires that the bean dry with the fruit still on it, which can readily mold, so it's also best for places that don’t normally have much rain during the harvest season. One of the trademark qualities of naturally processed coffees is their tendency to be fruity. Many people throughout the industry believe that since the seed is dried in the cherry, the coffee is “absorbing” flavor and sugar from the drying fruit. However the exact mechanism for the fruity flavors isn’t actually known. It’s more likely due to different metabolic processes happening in seeds. The embryo of the plant is alive, respirating, and going through lots of metabolic processes throughout drying. This is part of what the processes are managing – too high or low of temps, and rapid dehydration, can kill the embryo. You want that embryo alive, because it's driving the metabolic processes that give the seed its flavor profile. One thing we do know is there is a notable difference in the sugar composition in natural vs. washed coffees – way less fructose and glucose in naturals. These are the types of things you’re tasting, not absorbed flavors from the fruit. (Taya Brown, PhD)

  After the coffee is properly dried, the outer husk and dried fruit are mechanically separated from the beans. They generally have more body and tend to be less acidic than their washed counterparts. For someone who is new to specialty coffee, a well-processed natural is an eye-opening experience. We love watching people in our shop actually taste the blueberry in a natural Ethiopian. Despite its amazing qualities, the natural process has mixed reviews in specialty coffee. We love that it can produce coffee that tastes like watermelon, wine, or grape soda. We also know it can be really hard to get right and we don’t want to influence producers into potentially ruining their coffee in an effort to keep up with the industry. 

The washed process is more common and differs from the natural process in that the sticky flesh is removed from the coffee beans before drying. After harvesting, the cherry is run through a pulping machine which strips the outer skin off the coffee cherries. The remaining seed is covered in a sticky mucilage. Then, it’s moved into tanks, where the mucilage is broken down by fermentation. After the fermentation process is complete the beans are dried to the desired moisture content on drying tables or patios. This is a reliable method for producing high quality coffee and it generally produces more acidic or “bright” coffee. 

To offer an experience to our customers, we’ve been on the lookout for a good coffee that had been processed both washed as a natural. We recently found just the thing, from a producer named Rodrigo Palaez in Neira Caldas Colombia, which we purchased from importer Josef Wein of Cereza Coffee.

“I met Rodrigo Pelaez almost 5 years ago which coincided with the change in the Colombian Coffee Federation policies making natural coffee exportation more permissible. Rodrigo was just beginning his natural process and prolonged fermentation experiments, and we embarked on the journey together. We began by experimenting with different processing parameters and methods, and we learned from a continuous feedback loop by cupping and sending samples to roasting partners in the US.

Laderas del Tapias Estate is divided into 4 different farming plots (Villa Ines, Buenos Aires, Puerto Rico, y Graciela). In addition to running his farm Laderas del Tapias, Rodrigo is a dentist in a nearby city called Manizales, and he also writes a column about coffee in his local newspaper (La Patria). He is community minded and shares my passion for working with smaller coffee producers around Colombia. In November 2018 I attended a lecture that Rodrigo was invited to present at Harvard University about structuring supply chains to add value to producers.

After years of experiments, we have established parameters and a quantitative approach to processing naturals, which includes floating, in-cherry fermentation, and silo drying intervals over the course of 2-3 weeks (with strategic repose periods). I am proud to say that this is the most consistent and repeatable natural process I have seen in Colombia.” -Joseph Wein, Cereza Coffee 

Description of the two coffees

As mentioned, both of these processes were done to the same coffee varieties, grown at the same elevation and in the same soil and environmental conditions. Differences in the flavor profiles are therefore mainly due to these processing methods, offering YOU the opportunity to try these two processes side by side. We hope this helps curious coffee enthusiasts better understand the world of coffee, and better identify their own tastes within that world. 

Recommended ways to try these two coffees:

  • Purchase a bag of each and bring them home to brew in your preferred method in the privacy of your own home.  If you have a full bag of each, you can explore different brewing methods. Or, just put them both through the coffee pot and try each before adding sugar or milk. 
  • Tag us as you brew these coffees, tell us how you brew, and what differences you taste!

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